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Review: Jodie Hawthorne's 'Watching Pilgrims Watching Me'

I was delighted when a copy of Watching Pilgrims Watching Me arrived in the post, a prized gift! The beautiful photograph on the cover, at once evocative and mysterious, gives us a partial glimpse of the landscape, and draws us into this landscape — both inner and outer — of a region of Tibet, a country that has fuelled the imagination, minds and hearts of countless beings.

Watching Pilgrims Watching Me is a journey into that place that resonates with the heart – ‘a journey of discovery of Tibetan hearts, landscape and culture’. And so we journey into this place through the poet’s haiku, through her being present to her surroundings. Following in her footsteps we touch upon aspects of being there ourselves.

Hawthorne paints word pictures of life as it is in this part of the world, the rawness of life, the earthiness of life, as well as the spiritual and the cultural life. The haiku are surreal, earthy, mysterious and of great beauty. Each haiku can be read on its own, but I found the collection best read as a sequence, from one moment to the next.

The book is set out in eight chapters. From their titles we get the feel of movement, of a journey – leaving, moving, searching, arriving, being, travelling, and beyond. Each haiku is a stepping-stone that takes the reader on this journey, and at the same time holds us present, at that spot. Our journey begins in the city and the rub between rich and poor, the daily struggle for some to survive. There is a sense of weariness and grubbiness of city life, yet, at the same time, there is a feeling of compassion.

year after year
outside the big hotel
the same beggars

Then we are in the high country, breathing, almost with relief, the ‘thin crisp cool’.

There are moments of seemingly shocking incongruency, to this reviewer anyway, as in the image of a monk standing in the snow, his hands covered in pig’s blood!

Some of Hawthorne’s haiku are surreal, as in the following sensual haiku, an expression of intimate connection with the feminine deity of this region:

stars seem near
my hand enters
her body turquoise

Finally we arrive at journey’s end, breathing the rarefied air of a holy mountain, and learn that the title for this book comes from the last two lines of the last haiku.

Kawa Karpo peak
watching pilgrims
watching me

We have come full circle, a mandala of beginning and ending, complete, in and of itself.

Watching Pilgrims Watching Me is beautifully illustrated. The simple black ink line drawings by Anna Xue Yang complement Hawthorne’s haiku. An introduction gives an overview of the region where the haiku is set, and an explanation of some of the words in the text appears at the back of the book.

Watching Pilgrims Watching Me: haiku from Shangri-la is a gem — another publication of excellence from Pardalote Press. Go and savour it!